After a 2020 Kentucky Derby that not only didn’t have any fans — but ran in September instead of the first weekend in May, due to COVID-19 related delays — the 147th “Run for the Roses” is finally here, bringing the horse-racing world back into the correct timeline. With the event getting some semblance of normalcy back, it’s time to make our Kentucky Derby prediction for the 2021 race.
The oldest continuously held sporting event in U.S. history (and hosted at Louisville, Kentucky’s 1 1/4-mile dirt track at Churchill Downs), post is set for 6:57 p.m. Eastern (3:57 p.m. Pacific) on NBC. The late, unfortunate scratch of King Fury has trimmed the field to 19 three-year-old fillies, all chomping at the bit to claim the first leg of the coveted Triple Crown. It’s also time to open wallets, with more than $1.9 million in the total win pool as of Friday night through kentuckyderby.com.
2021 Kentucky Derby Odds (as of 11 p.m. CST, Friday, April 30)
- Win: Simple; pick the winning horse!
- Place: Net some return if your horse wins, or finishes in second.
- Show: Maybe your horse finishes in first, second or third. A safe, low-risk choice.
- Exacta: Sharpen up, and pick the correct order of finish for first and second place.
- Trifecta: Get slick, and pick the correct order of finish for places 1-3.
- Superfecta: Get wild, and pick the correct order of finish for places 1-4.
- High Five: Go absolutely crazy, and pick the correct order of finish for places 1-5.
- Post 1: Known Agenda, 16-1 (pays $34, to win on $2)
- Post 2: Like the King, 57-1 ($116)
- Post 3: Brooklyn Strong, 55-1 ($112)
- Post 4: Keepmeinmind, 53-1 ($108)
- Post 5: Sainthood, 43-1 ($88)
- Post 6: O Besos, 45-1 ($92)
- Post 7: Mandaloun, 40-1 ($82)
- Post 8: Medina Spirit, 15-1 ($32)
- Post 9: Hot Rod Charlie, 7-1 ($16)
- Post 10: Midnight Bourbon, 15-1 ($32)
- Post 11: Dynamic One, 45-1 ($92)
- Post 12: Helium, 51-1 ($104)
- Post 13: Hidden Stash, 39-1 ($80)
- Post 14: Essential Quality, 6-5 ($4.40)
- Post 15: Rock Your World, 9-2 ($11)
- Post 16: King Fury, scratched (health)
- Post 17: Highly Motivated, 16-1 ($34)
- Post 18: Super Stock, 46-1 ($94)
- Post 19: Soup & Sandwich, 30-1 ($62)
- Post 20: Bourbonic, 33-1 ($68)
Five things to know heading into the race:
- In the history of the Kentucky Derby, the No. 17 post — held this year by 16-1 long-shot Highly Motivated — has never produced a winner. “It’s a little farther outside than we would have liked, but there’s a long run into the turn and this horse clearly has a lot of natural speed,” trainee Chad Brown told the Courier Journal’s Jason Frakes. “Hopefully we’ll be forward enough to come over and get some position into the first turn.”
- It’s incredibly difficult to bet against Bob Baffert, who has six career wins at the Kentucky Derby and three within the last six years behind Triple Crown stud American Pharaoh (2015), Justify (2018) and last year’s stunner in Authentic (2020). He’s got another quality horse in this year’s run with Medina Spirit at 15-1 in the No. 8 post. “On paper, this son of Prontico will likely be gunned to the lead by John Velazquez, who will look to be among the top flight from the opening gate” writes SI.com’s Frankie Taddeo. “We could be looking at a repeat of last year with a horse who has run first or second in all five career races.”
- Todd Pletcher’s filly, Known Agenda, is certainly a contender for the crown — especially after winning the Florida Derby on March 27 by 2 3/4 lengths at 5-1 odds (third-best in the Florida Derby field). Unfortunately, Pletcher pulled the No. 1 post for his star, a slot that hasn’t produced a Derby darling since fantastic Ferdinand in 1986. He does have three other horses in this run in Sainthood, Dynamic One and Bourbonic — but all at 33-1 odds or longer. “One thing I like about our group overall is, I think they’re designed for the mile and a quarter,” Pletcher told bloodhorse.com’s Frank Angst. “They’re stoutly bred that way, and I think if we can get lucky and get good trips with them, hopefully, they’ll all be finishing well in the end.”
- Looking to make a last-second, soft bet for fun? The post-time favorite has won six of the last eight runnings of the Derby, and according to CBSSports.com, that honor will likely belong to Essential Quality at 2-1 as the morning-line favorite. “[EQ] can become just the third horse to win both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby, alongside Street Sense (2006 Juvenile, 2007 Derby) and Nyquist (2015 Juvenile, 2016 Derby),” CBS staff noted. For a solid exacta choice, Rock Your World comes in as the odds-on No. 2 at 5-1 in the morning-line selections.
- Landing a “superfecta” — predicting the first four places correctly — at the Kentucky Derby is quite, quite difficult. But over the last 16 years, it’s a bet that has returned more than $40,000 11 times. “In 11 of the past 16 years, the $2 superfecta has returned near the $40,000 mark or higher,” notes Mark Midland, of horseracingnation.com. “The average superfecta payoff from 2005 to 2020 is $145,334, although boosted by the massive payoffs with Country House (2019), Mine That Bird (2009) and Giacomo (2005). But even the $2 trifecta averages $15,779 over that time. And the median $2 trifecta payoff is $3,435 while the median $2 superfecta payoff is still a whopping $57,911.”
Kentucky Derby Prediction & Pick: Essential Quality
According to The Weather Channel, race-time conditions should be sunny with a high of 70 degrees, 47% humidity and a 10% chance of rain. It means the track will be in fairly strong condition, and though one shouldn’t expect Secretariat times (1:59 2/5, 1973, 23 seconds in the final quarter mile), things are favorable for an even, speedy race.
Bets for Highly Motivated (a favorite from sportsline.com’s Jody Demling), Known Agenda and Medina Spirit will be hard to push to the side, as will long looks at Hot Rod Charlie and Rock Your World, but Essential Quality is the sure selection here for our Kentucky Derby prediction.
The gray colt is a perfect 5-for-5 to start his career, and though he’ll be thoroughly tested by a pretty even field tonight, this is his race to lose.
“It’s certainly possible that Essential Quality will prove to be the best of this bunch and continue the trend of winning favorites,” writes USA Today’s Dan Wolken. “At this point in his career, the gray colt has done little wrong, winning all five career starts including last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. But both the speed figures and the eye test suggest that this is a consistent horse who has been maximizing his potential, not a superior animal with amazing upside that we haven’t seen yet.”
Need a flashy, sexy choice to win? Great value can also be found in Highly Motivated, who can make heroic history by breaking the No. 17 post curse.